I lay awake in bed in my apartment the entire night. I see the sun starting to rise around 6 AM despite the fact that I haven’t gotten a wink of sleep.
I sign my signature on the dotted line of Mary Ashford’s NDA and hand-deliver it to her office once the work day begins.
“I don’t mind it if I'm not receiving credit for the designs,” I tell her.
“I’m glad to hear that. Because they are going to push the public reaction to my upcoming launch over the edge in a very good way.”
“That’s really awesome to hear.”
“You’ve got a special talent, Nora,” she tells me.
“Thank you. I just have one favor to ask.”
“What would that be?”
“Can I please have a few days off to fly back to Indiana… without losing my job? I still want to work for you. But there’s business I need to attend back home.”
“Are you crazy?” she asks me.
I stare at her with huge eyes thinking about to get the boot for even asking. Lucas warned me to never request a day off.
“Of course, you can have a few days off. There’s no way I’m losing an incredibly brilliant fashion designer with an eye like yours off my team. I need you here. Just make sure you’re back here to help me before the end of next week because I’m going to need your consultations.”
I nod my head in agreement and catch an Uber back to my apartment to pack my things. The truth is that I actually wasn't okay with signing that NDA… but I realized that making a name for myself in this industry is going to take time and that everyone has to start somewhere. Even if it's at the bottom getting completely ripped off.
I’m going to be bigger than Mary Ashford someday. My fashion line is going to stomp hers out of the water. But for now, I need to play my cards right. I need to go with the flow until I’m ready to do what I know I’m capable of doing, deep within. I once thought I wanted to BECOME Mary Ashford when I got older. I don’t feel that way anymore. I want to be Nora Michaels. The one and only Nora Michaels-- who builds a fashion empire without needing to marry a wealthy older man or without having to steal the designs from a younger artist in order to get there.
I wait at the airport to board my flight back to Indiana and the entire time, all I can do is nervously hope and pray that Tony isn’t going to slam the door in my face when he sees me.
My plane lands around 6 PM so the sun is already on its way down into the horizon. When I arrive at Tony’s front door I take a deep breath and knock.
My heart is racing beyond control. There are so many things I need to say, starting with an apology. He is someone I care about so deeply and the fact that I hurt him the way I did genuinely hurts me just as much. I should’ve never gotten involved with Lucas. I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway. I need to absolutely sit down with Tony and explain everything to him while leaving the ball in his court for whether or not he would want to forgive me.
I stand there waiting, feeling totally on edge and unaware of how he’s going to react when he sees me.
As soon as he opens the door and sees me standing there he grabs me to give me a hug and a kiss. My nerves cause me to be stiff as a frail piece of glass that's ready to be shattered… but instead of anger, he wraps me in love.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” he says to me in disbelief. “To be honest I thought you were going to be gone for good.”
“You don’t… you don’t hate me?” I ask.
“Not even a little bit. A little heartbroken by everything that's happened? Of course. But seeing you here right now kind of takes all of that away.”
“I was going to come back here to see you and talk to you about everything whether it was going to mean losing my new job or not. Luckily, I didn’t lose my new job… But I would have still come even if it meant getting fired.”
“You would have risked your job just to come talk to me?”
“In a heartbeat.”
“I’m so glad you’re here,” he tells me, hugging me tightly, “You have no idea what I’ve been up to since you’ve been gone and I’ve been unable to get you out of my head.”
“What have you been up to?”
“Been watching and rewatching this…” he says, taking my hand and pulling me inside with him.
It feels so good to hold his hand again. It feels so good to be in his vicinity again. It feels so good to bask in his warmth and comfort. I can already sense the difference in emotion between what I felt for Lucas and what I deeply feel for Tony. With Lucas, it was the lust of excitement... and doing something that was forbidden. With Tony, it is this unwavering feeling of trust, peace, warmth, and comfort.
We sit down together in front of his TV and he presses play on the video footage of my most recent pageant.
“Oh God,” I say, cringing. “Not this.”
“You looked so beautiful during this whole entire pageant,” he says to me. “But what’s crazier is how obvious it is that there’s so much more to you than just being pretty. Thinking about you not winning makes zero sense.”
We watch the host ask me, “What advice do you have for younger generations of girls who might look up to you if you win this beauty pageant today?”
I tune out the godawful answer I gave that wasn’t even as cookie-cutter as it should have been for a true beauty pageant. I revisit the question in my head and think about how I really should have answered it.
Knowing what I know now, I’d tell girls of a younger generation that if they have doubts about their abilities to achieve something, the doubts will always win. But if they are willing to go out of their comfort zones with courage and fearlessness, it’s possible they will get what they’re dreaming of. Me landing my new job in LA is proof of that.
I’d tell girls of a younger generation to do the right thing in love. Treat the person you might love with respect so you don’t hurt them. I never want to hurt Tony the way I hurt him again. I can guarantee I’ll never do something so thoughtless again. I would never want to risk the relationship I have with him or put the feelings we share on the line.
I’d tell girls of a younger generation that being pretty isn’t everything. When you’re younger it feels like being pretty is the only important trait you can have as a female... but that’s just not the truth. Pretty girls have problems too. It might be true that being pretty helps ease the intensity of many problematic issues, but there will still always be problems that arise in life no matter how pretty you might appear to be. It’s all about how you react to your problems, how you handle yourself when facing your problems, and how easily you’re able to find your resilience.
“Please turn this off?” I ask.
Tony clicks live TV on to turn off the pageant footage with his remote. “I know you hate to see it but I still stand by what I said about you being the one who deserved to win,” he tells me.
“I appreciate you for saying that. I appreciate you in general. In fact, I love you.”
“I love you too,” he says to me.
“I’m wondering if you’d come back to Los Angeles with me?” I ask him. “I’ve got an apartment there and my job that I have to get back to… but I can’t picture going back there without you.”
He stares at me quietly for a moment. I can tell he’s thinking about it and I know how scary the thought is. I was scared out of my mind when I boarded my first flight to California-- and I was only planning to be gone for one week. Now, I’m here asking him to move there with me permanently which would mean completely uprooting his entire life.
“What do you think?” I ask him. “I’ll understand if this is too much and you need time to decide.”
“I don’t need time,” he tells me, “Of course I’ll go with you. I can get a new job anywhere… including Los Angeles. And I can see about moving forward with my college acceptance to UCLA.”
“I was hoping you would say that,” I say to him, taking his face and kissing his lips.
I’ve never been more excited for a new chapter to unfold in my life. For a moment there I get a glimpse of my mother’s face… The same face I always see when I am about to paint a portrait of her. I feel like I can see her sort of... smiling at me. It’s as if this point in my life came to be because of her continually active presence in my life, despite the fact that she isn't still alive.
Backtracking to the beginning, I would’ve never gotten my job in Los Angeles had Tony not pushed me to pursue the fashion industry with my artwork. Tony and I would’ve never had that conversation in the first place had I actually ended up winning that beauty pageant over Trixie. Honestly, I would’ve never entered the pageant circuit in the first place for three years in a row had it not been for my mother’s beauty pageant history before she passed away.
Whether it’s all truly connected or not, I feel grateful for the present moment and even more excited for the future. It feels good to finally realize that there is more to life than just how pretty you are. My self-esteem is built upon multiple foundations that have nothing to do with my outward appearance.
I may not have won the pageant but in my opinion, I am still a winner if I am doing my best to live a fulfilling life that I might actually love.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Stephanie HarperWrite a Review